CHRISTINE'S BLOG

Welcome! I love to write, and I love sharing what I write with my readers. I vary my style as much as I can-posting events, creative non-fiction, prose and poetry and the occasional video. Enjoy!

Miigwetch

Christine

Monday, January 30, 2012

DVD Review: Water On The Table


"The question of whether water is a human right is not a semantic debate. You get people to say its a human need, why do you need to designate it a human right? And here's why: If its a human need it can be delivered by the public sector or the private sector on a for-profit basis. If its a human right, you cannot sell it, you cannot trade it, and you cannot deny it to someone because they do not have money to pay for it."
(quote by Maude Barlow in the Water On The Table film)

DVD Review: Water On The Table

While viewing this dvd, I was taken away by the images of water that splashed across my screen, the work by water warrior Maude Barlow, the gathering of community to fight Site 41, and the campaign brought to the UN. I took in the scenes of water shot from the lake waters of Simcoe County, to the mountains and beyond, and recalled the teaching by Josephine Mandamin "an ounce of water will cost the ounce of gold in 2030 if we continue our negligence."

 I felt sad when I saw the fly over images of Alberta's tar sands and watched Elders and members of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta explain the consequences and impacts they have had to endure all because of our governments greed for money and profit. I asked myself "how can a life source like water be so taken advantage of?

"Water On The Table" is a social issue documentary that explores Canada's relationship to water. It also explores the impact of commodification and how it is a war that has to be continually fought. The documentary follows the work of water crusader Maude Barlow and the fight she has taken up to defend our waters. The campaign to have water declared a human right was dramatically advanced at the United Nations on July 28, 2010 where it is stated " some 884 million people are without access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation. 1.5 children under five years old die each year as a result of water-and sanitation related diseases."

Film Director/Producer Liz Marshall does an incredible job in bringing forth the work of Maude Barlow and her fight against those who insist water is just another resource to be bought and sold.

"Water On The Table" is a part of the hot docs collection (www.hotdocs.ca) and is 79 mins long. It's special features include revealing short documentaries, the making of Water On The Table-Water Activism, Water Meditations and the Glacier-Howser Story. For more information on this documentary please visit the following website www.wateronthetable.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights


Review: Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights

 My posts on the issue of water, were inspired not only by previous research I have done on First Nations and the sacredness of water but when I was able to hear Anishnaabe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin speak about the importance of water and how water plays such an integral role with First Nations people across Turtle Island.

First Nations peoples face some of the worst water crises in Canada and throughout North America, and though the widespread lack of access to safe drinking water receives ongoing national media attention, there is very little progress addressing the causes of this problem. It is baffling that the causes of these problems are not addressed more thoroughly.

Merrell-Ann S. Phare, the author of “Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights,” states “Most governments in Canada assert that they own the water within their boundaries. Given this and with few exceptions, every use of water in Canada requires a permit of one kind or another from a provincial governments,” but when it comes to water needed by First Nations, there is uncertainty as to who is in control of or responsible for or can allocate that water.

Phare addresses such questions as, “What entitlement do First Nations have to water? Is it the same type or scope of entitlement as other Canadians? And if different, how and why and what does this mean for First Nation and non-First Nations water security? First Nations have had little say in how their waters are, or are not, protected. They have been excluded from many important decisions, as provinces operate under the view that they own the water resources within provincial boundaries, and the federal government takes a hands-off approach.

The demands for access to waters that First Nations depend upon are intense and growing. Oil and gas, mining, ranching, farming and hydro-development all require enormous quantities of water, and each brings its own set of negative impacts to the rivers, lakes and groundwater sources that are critical to First Nations. Climate change threatens to make matters even worse.

Over the last 30 years, the courts have clarified that First Nations have numerous rights to land and resources, including the right to be involved in decision-making, but other sectors such as agricultural and industrial development all require enormous amounts of water, and this all has very serious negative impacts on the rivers, lakes that are critical to way of life for First Nations peoples. This book is a call to respect the water rights of First Nations, and through this creates a new water ethic in Canada and beyond.

“Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights” is written by Merrell-Ann S. Phare and is published by Rocky Mountain Books. You can find it at your nearest bookstore.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

INDIGENOUS WRITER'S GATHERING AT FIRST NATIONS HOUSE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO


Indigenous Writer’s Gathering:

Thursday, February 9
All events held at First Nations House, 563 Spadina Ave, 3rd Floor (just
north of College St)
Free Admission- Open the Public


10:30-12:00 • Journalism and the preservation of our stories in the electronic age with Waubgeshig Rice, Wab Kinew and Muskrat Magazine Publisher Rebeka

12:30-2:00 • Poetry and Politics with the renowned Lee Maracle and Ryan Red Corn of the 1491s

2:30-4:00 • Getting Grants and accessing funding for your creative work


6pm– 8pm OPEN MIKE reading night at First Nations House
Drop in and share your short prose or poetry, or be part of the enthusiastic audience. Snacks and drinks will be served.


Friday, February 10

10:00 AM - Breakfast with the Writers: grab a coffee and some food with some of today’s best Indigenous authors.

12:00- 1:30 • Traditional storytelling and mythmaking with Daniel Justice and Waub Rice

2:00-3:30 • Developing and utilizing writing groups with Bren Kolson and Lee Maracle

4:00-5:30 • Writing for performance with the 1491’s Dallas Goldtooth and Ryan Red Corn and author/performer AmberLee Kolson

PLEASE COME AND SUPPORT THE WRITER'S AND HAVE FUN!



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Issue of Water:


By: Christine McFarlane

Water is an integral life source. It is sacred when you look at it from a First Nations perspective. It is a critical element to life. Every living being relies on water for life-insects, fish, birds, wildlife and plant life and we in return rely on them for our survival.
What will we do when our water supply is depleted, and too polluted for us to use? Every day usage of water in many situations is being taken for granted and in doing so we are jeopardizing the future of our waters for future generations. If the disregard for the water supply continues, we can expect our water to become depleted and unfit for human consumption. This demands urgency for raising awareness for the conservation of this life source.
Aboriginal peoples in Ontario are aware of the growing rise of our polluted waters. We as aboriginal peoples are taught that the water is sacred and replenishes the very air we breathe. Have you ever considered how you look at water? How do you feel about water? 
I went to a Native Youth conference on January 14-15, 2012 where I heard Elder Josephine Mandamin(an Anishnaabe Grandmother who has been responsible for several water walks)  speak about how integral water is. She mentioned that "An Anishinabe prophesied that in about 30 years, if we humans continue with our negligence, an ounce of drinking water will cost the same as an ounce of gold."
Water is an integral issue, and its something that everyone needs to pay attention to. I have decided that my next two posts will focus on the issue of water. I will review the book "Denying the Source: The Crisis of First Nations Water Rights" written by Merrell-Ann S. Phare and review a HotDocs documentary titled "Water on the Table" which features water warrior Maude Barlow and directed by Liz Marshall.
The "Water on the Table" documentary asks the question "Is water a commercial good like running shoes or Coca-Cola? Or is water a human right like air?" 


Please consider the above two questions and what they mean to you and in the next two weeks, I will be following this post up with the two reviews I have mentioned.


(For information on Anishnaabe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin and her role in the walk for water and its survival please visit http://www.motherearthwaterwalk.com)


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Taken from the Blog-Write to Done (http://writetodone.com)

The Pros and Cons of Comparing Yourself to Other Writers

A guest post by K.M. Weiland of Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors

With the advent of writing communities on such networking sites as Twitter and Facebook and half a thousand forums and Nings, writers are perhaps more social and less solitary than at any time in our history.
This brings its fair share of both benefits and drawbacks, since our easy access to other writers—both those who are striving to be published and those who have a dozen bestsellers under their belts—causes inevitable comparisons.
Are we as good as they are?
Are they as good as we are?
Let’s explore what we can gain from answering these questions, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

Cons

Jealousy: Easily, the most destructive con of comparison is that of jealousy. Sometimes this jealousy is the simple result of having read a book that spun its tale with such gossamer characters and seamless themes that we were left astonished.
We look at this brilliant author’s perfect prose, and we hate them just because they’re so much better than us. Or perhaps a writing buddy has just nailed a plum contract with the Agent of the Year. What did she do to deserve that honor, especially when—let’s be honest here—her writing leaves a lot to be desired compared to ours?
Jealousy is a flaw common to the vast majority of writers (due largely to the next con on our list), but it’s one that gets us exactly nowhere. The sooner we can stand up to our feelings of jealousy, put them behind us, and work toward being genuinely happy for our fellow writers, the more content and the more productive we’ll be.
Because, let’s face it, there’s always someone who’s better, richer, or luckier than we are. Jealousy is a never-ending melodrama of pain and pettiness.
Inferiority: Perhaps the reason jealousy is so prevalent among authors is that it almost always follows on the heels of its kissing cousin: inferiority. Very few writers are able to maintain perfect confidence in their skill.
When we run across a writer whose prose is more effortless than ours, whose characters are more realistic, whose paychecks are larger, and whose accolades are louder, we can’t help but compare. And when we find ourselves wanting, we either want to plot laborious and exhaustive murder for the object of our comparison, or we want to crumple in a corner and bawl at our general wretchedness. Sometimes both.
In one sense, this chronic inferiority complex is actually a positive thing, since it keeps us honest. As Orson Scott Card put it in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, “Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things: The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.”
Maintaining humility in our work is crucial to our genuineness as artists. But we can’t take this too far. We have to be able to reach a place of objectivity from which we can honestly compare our work to other writers, glean what we can from that comparison, or, if there’s simply nothing to be gained (as would be the case if we, say, compared the latest advance on our books to Stephen King’s), shrug it off as the inconsequentiality it is.

Pros

Inspiration: Comparing ourselves to other writers isn’t all bad. So long as we keep the downfalls in mind and are prepared to avoid them, we can actually gain a number of benefits from considering our fellow writers and how we measure up against them.
Honestly, can you imagine living entirely segregated from writerkind?
That would mean no books to read.
No fellow crazies to understand our quirks and obsessions.
No writerly energy to feed off.
We gain our inspiration from the art of others, from hearing about our writing buddies’ struggles, and from bouncing ideas back and forth.
If I were to write a thank you note to every author I’ve read, loved, and inevitably compared myself too, I probably wouldn’t have time to finish my next novel. Because most of us write the kind of books we enjoy reading, we are constantly reading books that are similar to our own. We recognize similar elements, compare them, and learn how to improve our own characters, plot, and prose as a result.
It’s a win-win situation, because who’s to say our mentors may not someday read one of our stories and find some similarity that brings that next epiphany to their writing?
Motivation: Once we get over the crumpling and crying brought on by our sense of inferiority in comparing ourselves to great writers, our next step is to rise from the ashes, pen in hand, motivated to blot out the very reason for our inferiority. The brilliance of this other author isn’t a boulder to crush us; it’s a mountain to scale.
Perhaps today we’re not good enough to be mentioned in the same breath with our heroes, but, you know what? If they can do it, so can we!
Reading great writers and comparing their brilliant stories to my own has been one of the single greatest factors in motivating me to keep writing, keep learning, keep trying. Nothing is more exciting to the dedicated writer than reading good fiction. Good stories excite us and drive us forward. We close the covers on a good book, and the first thing we want to do (after buying the sequel) is run to our keyboards and funnel all that inspiration and motivation into our own writing.
As with so many things in the writing life, successfully comparing ourselves to other writers is all about balance. If we can tamp a lid on the cons and embrace the pros, we can use the success of our fellows to launch ourselves to even greater heights.
It should be the goal of every writer to be comparison worthy. Hearing someone say, “I wish I could write as well you,” isn’t only the highest of compliments, it’s also a sign you’re giving back to the writing community the benefits you drew from it yourself.
About the Author: K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her bookOutlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.
__________________________________________________
http://writetodone.com/2012/01/13/the-pros-and-cons-of-comparing-yourself-to-other-writers/

Guest Post: Dr. Karen O'Brien (Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney)

(Dr. Karen O'Brien)


Dr. Karen O’Brien is a Senior Lecturer in History and Indigenous Studies at the University of Sydney. I feel very honoured to have met and studied under Dr. O'Brien during my participation in the Summer Abroad Program- Sydney Australia in 2010.  Her genuine interest and the enthusiasm she shows in  teaching and learning  in regards to Indigenous issues has captured me in ways and words I have a hard time conveying. Connecting with her has genuinely made a lasting positive impact on me during my studies while I was in Sydney, Australia and to this day. 

She is interested in research that explores fresh approaches to researching and writing Indigenous histories and experiences. Her research takes an approach that advocates a critical awareness of the ways in which history has been written and one that might positively influence its research in the future.  Karen’s research explores historical sources that are rich in personal narrative and life stories such as biography, testimonial studies, oral histories and history from images and it draws on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches that aim to secure an authentic historical voice.  

Her appointment synthesises her research and teaching in two broad areas of Indigenous Studies and history. It forms a catalyst for her teaching and research which she has developed successfully since 1992. It is an area that she loves and to which she brings much experience. Her teaching and research strongly and efficiently supports the involvement of Indigenous perspectives.  Her research, teaching and learning has also been instrumental in helping to change the collective consciousness regarding Indigenous issues in universities and the broader Australian community.

She teaches the Politics of Indigenous Identity, Gender and Knowledge, Issues in Indigenous rights and Colonising and Decolonising Indigenous histories and is currently supervising a number of Indigenous postgraduate students in Indigenous research, and has also lived and worked in an Inidgenous community for the past 25 years. 

(2010)   ‘With my eyes, my heart and with my brain I am thinking:  Indigenous History from Images, Australia and New Zealand Law and History Journal

(December, 2008)  ‘Academic Language, Power and the Impact of Western Knowledge Production on Indigenous Education’ Australian Journal of Indigenous Education


Firstly, as an important matter of cultural protocol,  it is important for me to note above Dr. Karen O'Brien's Indigenous history from images article that:

Members of Indigenous communities are respectfully advised that a number of people mentioned in writing and in images in this journal article have passed away.

Please enjoy reading the work of Dr. Karen O'Brien:



 ‘With my eyes, my heart and with my brain I am thinking’1: Testimony, Treaty and Decolonising Indigenous History from Images
Karen O’Brien2

http://www.anzlhsejournal.auckland.ac.nz/papers/papers-2010.html


(this article is published in the Australia and New Zealand Law and History Journal  (2011) http://www.anzlhsejournal.auckland.ac.nz/papers/papers-2010.html.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Music Review-Diverse As This Land Volume II

(Image Taken from http://www.banffcentre.ca)

Music Review: Diverse As This Land Volume II
By: Christine McFarlane


The "Diverse As This Land Volume II" music compilation is part of a Banff Centre project that explores how land shapes vocal and cultural expression and reveals the dynamic spectrum of Indigenous music today. The nature of land and the diversity within Aboriginal cultures is the inspiration behind “Diverse As This Land,” a seven-year music project envisioned by Sandra Laronde, director of Aboriginal Arts at The Banff Centre.

This cd is aptly titled “Diverse As This Land-Volume II” because it features the vocals of various Indigenous artists. Artists include George Leach, a Canadian musician and actor. A Sta'atl'mix from Lillooet, British Columbia  who released his debut album "Just Where I'm At" in 2000 and has subsequently performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. Altai Khangai, an Indigenous group from Mongolia, Pura Fe with Cary Morin, who is a singer- songwriter, poet, musician and social activist, who created the first Native women's a cappella trio Ulali, and who (Pura Fe) I had the honour of interviewing for the December 2011 issue of the Native Canadian and M'Girl (pronounced ma-girl), an Aboriginal Women's Ensemble founded by Renae Morriseau in 2004 and features a cadre of talented women from a variety of First Nations (Saulteaux, Anishnabe, Tahltan, Dene, Salish) all residing in the Greater Vancouver Area. 


From the slow melodic tunes of George Leach, an almost hypnotic quick rhythm of Altai Khangai, the folk blues music of Pura Fe and Cary Morin, to the upbeat tempo of music and the comforting sound of the hand drums accompanying M'Girl,  I especially enjoyed the song "Kitaskinanaw."  With this song, M'Girl sings about the land and what it means to them.


"This land is my land
This land is your land
From Bonavista
to Vancouver Island
from the Arctic Circle
to the Great Lake waters
This land was made for you and me"

The “Diverse As This Land-Volume II" gives listeners a diverse range of music to listen to and enjoy. The compilation is produced by Aboriginal Arts and Music and Sound, at the Banff Centre. The recording was made possible through the assistance of Canada Council for the Arts, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Please visit http://www.banffcentre.ca for more information about this music compilation. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Post: Tyler Pennock

 
(Tyler Pennock)

Tyler Pennock is of Cree and Metis descent, from the community of Faust, Alberta. He was adopted into a military family at birth; and grew up in many places across Canada, and also Germany. Tyler writes poetry, creative non-fiction and theatre. His creative non-fiction work entitled Elijah Harper was published in Yellow Medicine Review in 2008 along with poetry. His play, "Al and the Snake," was workshopped at Weesageechak and later, the Mayworks festival, both in 2011. Tyler graduated from the University of Toronto in 2009, specializing in Aboriginal Studies. He is currently in the Creative Writing MFA program at Guelph University.

Whose Commons is it, anyway?
Tyler Pennock


I – The Beginning

We came from the stars.
We fell from the sky.
     If we were able to take a bird’s eye view of the world, to look at all it’s stories, social interactions, communications, and media, the world might actually seem likely a pretty interesting place to be. All over this planet there are billions of conversations occurring- personal, communal, national and even across continents, and the form of these conversations varies almost as much as the content! If we were to pull back further, and look across time – we’d notice that certain conversations present themselves over and over again. Love between enemies, the quest for an artifact to save a kingdom from starvation, or the unsuspected power of a slave over their ‘master’, a prisoner over their captor. Repeating patterns present themselves often, buoyed by the world’s renewed interest in them.
     It’s a bit like ocean currents – where certain stories are warmed and rise, while others cool and fall, spending their requisite time in the depths. Like currents, the constant pattern of what presents itself is no doubt fascinating – and we try to delve deeper – to find out what’s underneath it all, what’s driving the motion behind the resurfacing.
     So in an effort to understand it all a little better, we dive in. Of course, we are without water wings or life jackets, and a great deal of effort is spent trying to stay afloat in the sea of voices – of information.
     In today’s society though, we have help. From our earliest memories we are given the tools necessary to navigate the world of communicative beings. In kindergarten for example, we are taught to play with others, to know the value of story, and to move around in our relatively new, exciting bodies.
     Later on, we receive books (in my time it was the beloved Dick and Jane and Spot series) to inculcate the concept of communication further. Along with Coloring, Math, English, History and Drama we slowly become speaking, reading, and writing beings. This is how we are helped to stay afloat.
     I recall in one of my inculcations a play on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I played the wolf. It was while I was in grade two, I believe. It was my responsibility to eat grandma and then promptly die when everyone’s savior shows up. At the time I had a blue wool button up sweater with a dog on it, and that made the role seem better suited to me. After I suffered the expected fate, the lumberjack character was to open the buttons of my sweater and reveal the recently masticated matron. I can’t recall how exactly that was done, but I’m sure it was magic!
     At around the age of seven, I happened across the 1978 film The Company of Wolves. I’m not entirely certain why I was allowed to watch the film, because even now the scene where the young groom morphs into the wolf troubles me. That doesn’t mean that I refused to watch it. My fascination only started then, and has grown ever since, for I soon sought out tales of the fantastic. That need for the fantastic then grew more serious, as Stephen King and Anne Rice replaced Terry Brooks, and Fantasy Films were replaced by brutal Horror stories. (Indeed, John Carpenter’s The Thing changed my view of horror films forever.)
     In my teen years, while reading voraciously about Werewolves and Vampires, my fascination grew with the release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Again, a man morphed into  - and communicated relatively easily with – wolves. He also had an affinity for human blood. I was hooked.
     So when I was brought in to play the role of Robbie Drunken Chief in a workshop production of A Very Polite Genocide, the character of Rougarou (A M├ętis trickster) caught my attention.  Plainly put, Rougarou is a werewolf. The word is a Michif word, derived from the French word Loup-Garou. However, this character has many of a trickster’s characteristics. He has all the humour, the irreverence, innocence, and lack of morality wrapped into a huge (and sometimes funny) furry ball.
     While we were in the production I Googled everything I could about Rougarou. One explanation was that Rougarou was a werewolf character based on the native Wendigo. If you google the Wendigo, you will find hundreds of descriptions and explanations as to what exactly a Wendigo is. Some say they’re zombies, some say they are spirits, and the number of possible explanations vary immensely. One thing common to all is the fact theat they really like human flesh. A lot. They’re also quite powerful. In fact, some descriptions of Wendigo closely mirror those of some (certainly not all) descriptions of Rougarou, in that (in addition to the taste for humans) a Wendigo can be considered a werewolf.
Wait wait wait.
What?
You can’t be serious.

II – The Arc

     Imagine for a moment that the world is about to flood. There’s a man who knows about it, and also plans to do something. He and his people are partial to boats, and so he goes about constructing a very, very large boat. Soon it becomes apparent from the boat’s size that he’s planning on carrying much more than his family. After a time, all the animals of the world arrive in twos. They intend to mate, whenever they find land. Of course, we’re not entirely sure this man has thought it through, because it takes much more than two to re-populate a species. It’s also unclear what the animals thought, as the boat-builder doesn’t appear to have mastered much in the way of animal speak. In any case, the animals are invited, and presumably they were told that this was a couples-only engagement.  Besides, this guy purportedly knows god, whom we can assume will temporarily mess with genetics to allow the whole thing to be a smash hit. (Despite the unfortunate incident where Bear was caught with squirrel in his mouth, and had to be convinced that he would have more squirrels to choose from later, if only he let that one live. Math- and in particular, multiplication tables weren’t his strong subject.)
     While we may not all agree on this story’s veracity or this particular framing of events, Noah’s Ark is still pervasive. In this, it has become part of what we might call a commons, or what Jonathan Lethem describes in The ecstasy of Influence, as “belong[ing] to everyone and no one, … its use is controlled only by common consent.” [1] In other words, certain works, artistic endeavours, messages and concepts are so pervasive that they should no longer be controlled by copyright, and should be shared openly – to promote the growth of culture itself. Control by common consent in Noah’s case is implied in the fact that the written text (the Bible, the Qur’an) has been given away for centuries, and the story itself has been told in so many languages and forms that it is literally everywhere. Nearly anyone might recognize the story, if not in detail, then at least by its major plot developments.
     And yet the differences between the two stories are so obviously of my making. My own limited creativity is seen for the differences my text provides, perhaps for the humor or the awkwardness of Noah’s venture – complete with an anachronism borne in the name of genetics, and a disregard for the solemnity of his venture (after all, his people were dying). A great many people would be able to recognize the differences between my version and the original, because the original is ever-present.
      Despite my changes, Noah’s story occupies a kind of greatness, or as Lethem might phrase it – the story is one that has “moved to a place beyond closure or control.” [2] It has become part of the public consciousness to such an extent that its original form is left untouched by revisions, homages, or blatant re-writes. My influence cannot alter the space set for it in the minds of others.
     As a writer, however the question of ‘the sacred’ suddenly surfaces. Have I injured the original author of the story by retelling it the way I have?
First, I haven’t actually changed the major details of the story.
Second, I haven’t deliberately obscured the source of the story.
Third, I haven’t copied the story verbatim, assuming ownership over the author’s original expression.
     Yet if I have skirted the matter of plagiarism by following those rules, I certainly don’t feel any better for it. Deep down inside, I feel uncomfortable using another story without staying true to its intent.
     This reminds me of a Haudenasonee (Iroquois) story behind the bent-nose (also known as false face) masks. (Again, you can find many versions of this story online, by many authors.) One day, a man, particularly proficient in healing, was walking when he came across a healer. He boasted to the healer – telling of how powerful he was, so powerful in fact that he was the creator of everything around them. The healer disagreed. They fought about it for a while. So the healer challenged the man to a contest. The healer pointed to a mountain and suggested that the both try to move that mountain, and that whomever moved it the furthest would be the winner. The only requirement was that each man look away while the other was working. Now, it is important to mention that the healer was in fact in disguise. In some versions he was the creator, in other versions he was God, and in others the healer was the man’s original teacher. Irrespective of the details, the healer was in fact, the munchkin behind the curtain.
     So it was decided that the Man should go first. He tried, and lifted the mountain – moving it a few feet. After he was finished, he looked over smugly at the healer. So then the man looked away and the healer started to do his thing. Yet the man turned around early to see what was happening, and right then the mountain smacked him in the face, and broke his nose. [3] To this day, false-face masks are employed by those in a society whose purpose is to heal the sick. Every one of the masks shows the broken nose as a reminder of this story.
     It is also a story that reminds us that we shouldn’t present ourselves as something other than what we are. More importantly, the story is an example of plagiarism at its worst. The man claimed authorship over everything around them. The true creator showed him otherwise.
     In this, I’m reminded of a particular tendency in our culture to present multiple versions of a story. Normally, we in oral traditions believe that different versions are a good thing. But in the world of the written word, that can mean entirely different concept. For example, I found another version of the false-face story and was struck by the overt nature of the Christian influence present. In that version, the healer declares himself as the “Great Lord of the Universe,” and continues a much longer conversation in which the man discovers the lord’s identity and still challenges him. Naturally, he fails, just as Lucifer did. Yet, at the end of this version, the lord fixes the man’s face. [4]
     Wait - what of the false face society? What of the masks? What of the broken nose to serve as a reminder of past foibles? This is the crux of the problem with a public commons, then – an area where common consent can allow the change of material. Sometimes works change to fit the changing ideals of the public. (A beautiful example of this is in Milton’s Paradise Lost – where Milton makes the devil much more attractive and interesting than God and his son. Evil fascinates us.) Yet, the problem with this example is that the false-face mask is not recognizable enough to the public to ensure the original form stays intact. Also, the Haudenasonee aren’t a large (and hugely visible) part of wider public, so the original intent of the story gets lost in the flurry of revisions – the cacophony of interested voices. Which begs the question:

Whose commons is it, anyway?

     Some time ago I came across a children’s book that incorporated Cree legends in its storytelling. Freda Ahenakew and George Littlechild edited the collection, and it was titled, How the Birch Tree got its Stripes. In the publication details, the editors saw fit to mention that the stories they’d collected were the sovereign property of the Cree people. (That’s a lot of people by the way.) Any Cree person could use the stories as they saw fit. Here’s an example of how copyright actually benefits the original creators. I must say, however that the main difference is that in this case, the original creators are a people – and not a single person. This is because we often use our legends – and our legends are to our communities what Noah’s Ark, or Paradise Lost, or Pride and Prejudice would be to the wider public. We can share them among our own peoples without worry because everyone – even those in different linguistic and cultural groups – would recognize the fake from the original. But to share these things in the wider world is another matter entirely.
     Lethem writes that, “We in western society are going through a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good.” [5] But the example I’ve provided is not one of public good vs. private ownership; it is one of public ownership vs. a different public’s ownership. In today’s world, we are fighting a copyright war. We are consistently copyrighting our public materials, or find ourselves in situations where other people have copyrighted what we consider our sovereign property. Indeed, I’ve known people prevented from publishing their own family’s story because someone else (part of the same linguistic community) holds the copyright! And in many other cases, copyrighting of our materials has been done outside our communities, without our knowledge. Those engaged in this process like Vampires [6] – never really killing our culture, but sometimes robbing it of its substance – it’s sine qua non.
     Lethem provides a tangible example of the commons as “anything like the streets over which we drive, the skies through which we pilot airplanes, or the public parks or beaches on which we daily.” [7] What makes these spaces a commons is their visibility and continued use. Were anyone to come into your park and change aspects of it, or pave over it completely, it is almost certain that the entire neighborhood would be in an uproar, particularly if your child went there every day after school. Petitions would be signed, councilors might be cornered, and the decision maker might find him or herself out of a job. But if no one in your neighborhood had used the park in many years, it is doubtful anyone would do anything.
     Consider this. What if the park wasn’t yours to begin with, and none of your community members ever used it? What if small parts changed here and there, until that park changed so slowly that you barley noticed? Each substitution of one feature for another “seen in glimpses, [and] not in panorama.” [8] What you wouldn’t know is that the community to whom it belonged would be up in arms. But would you notice?
      We would. It would be equivalent to looking up at the sky twice – and in the second glance finding that all the stars had reoriented themselves, and we no longer recognized them.

III – The Revelation

 … While we were in the production of A Very Poite Genocide I googled everything I could about Rougarou. One explanation was that Rougarou was a werewolf character based on the native Wendigo, who was many things, including a cannibal and a werewolf.
Wait wait wait.
What?
You can’t be serious.
There’s something wrong here – this does not make sense.
     Allow me to clarify. First of all, I must say that Wendigo is a pan-indigenous concept. But the word itself is specific to Algonquin languages. Perhaps it’s best to provide a brief explanation. The root of the word is:
Wiin
     A larger version of the root would be Wiintip. That literally means brain matter. Try to think of wiin as the self. Not the ego, but as one would see, or express themselves. It is the culmination of one’s cultural and social experience. The suffix to the word is:
Iko
     Iko means to be made passive. For instance, if I were to say, Kisaakihik, that literally means, he or she loves me. Not the other way around. So when we put wiin and iko together, we get Wiintiko. Wendigo. The self (or mind) made passive. [9]
     It is the quintessential evil in our societies – usually punishable by death. The most extreme example is of course, cannibalism. In this case all of your humanity is gone, and you become a shadow behind the consuming force. Another way to look at it would be obsession. The kind of obsession that strips you of the ability to reason, to make choices, to care for your family, and to engage with the wider world. It can manifest in many ways, notable for the lack of concern for community, self, other people, etc. How many people today occupy this role? Can we point to others that have eschewed the concern for humanity for their own (often twisted) desires and obsessions?  Would Gold be enough to turn someone this way? Money? Oil? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any case the special place we have for this evil is inherent in some of the translated names for them, such as Ice Hearts or Cannibal hearts. [10] In many ways their power and self-consuming tendency is so pervasive that they are like a kind of positive feedback loop, [11] which is extremely powerful, and destroys itself in its making.
     Here’s the crucial part: What makes the Wiitiko so evil is the fact that it is the self, turning on itself. Or its own people. Or perhaps everything it was taught. It is a self-consuming phenomenon! Which is why it is important to insist that Wiitiko is not the incorporation of animal in human. Self-consuming human. NOT a werewolf.
     The inclusion of the animal as necessarily base and evil is a euro-western phenomenon dating back to the time when they had their own oral traditions – later captured in print by stories like Little Red Riding Hood, or Peter and the Wolf. So you can imagine my surprise and horror when I see films, plays, books and other media portray Wiitiko as half-animal, half-human. We must remember that Wiitikos are real, possible and not mythological half-beasts. And so against the greater commons I virulently protest that we should not allow western cultural concepts to infiltrate and change our stories. We should not be lulled into thinking of animals as evil. It isn’t our way. (Too bad we can’t copyright it…)
     Unfortunately, the tale of Wiitiko is so prevalent in dominant society that it is used in all kinds of stories tales without very little consideration for its true meaning. It is part of the commons now – beyond our control. Not that anyone today would notice that it has changed. But someone out there ought to be Chicken Little and point up in order to say, ‘our sky is falling. The things we look to in order to live good lives have been changed.’ The scary part is that no one has noticed. They may be lurking out there now. The cannibal is wearing wolf’s clothing, and I fear that if it remains so disguised, it will eat us all.
My what big teeth you have …

IV – Closing

We came from the stars.
We fell from the sky.

     “That is how it was, as I remember.[12] At least, we are told that our very first ancestor(s) fell from the sky. Winona, Sky Woman, First Woman, Spider Woman, Nis Bundor. Every single one of them – whether on the end of a spider’s tendril, falling at great speed, or “spin-spinning, whirl-whirling, swirl-swirling, twirl-twirling,” [13] all came from the stars above. Which is not that hard to believe. Every single element in the world around us attributes its beginnings to stars, and the intense fusion or explosions that once turned Hydrogen into other things. We truly are from the stars.
     Ergo it makes sense that whenever we think of our origins, or wonder about our direction or place, we look up – to re-gain our bearings. Countless stories and tales are themselves embedded within the constellations. The Oneida’s seven dancers, the Guna’s Seven brothers and one sister, or the Cree peoples’ fisher stars all refer to what is now known as the Big Dipper. This constellation tells us when we need to plant, harvest, prepare for winter, or move camp, solely by its seasonal position. We know it by a different name, but just as navigators once used them to steer ships by, we also use stars to guide our lives. After all, the stars are the place of our origin.
     If stars are our beginning, then perhaps what lies beneath is our ending.
     And suddenly that is where we find ourselves again. Culturally speaking, it seems as though we are sometimes sitting helpless in the ocean – each change or movement in thought a kind of wave, knocking us about. We have been given water wings and life jackets – in the form of writing and education that favors western worldview, and up until now we’ve make due with what we had.
     But please bear in mind that unlike Noah, we are not partial to boats. We have eschewed our life jackets and water wings in favor of a turtle’s back. And instead of studying and learning the roiling waters of western stories and culture, we are looking downward. We are looking through the currents, underneath the waves. As a public, and considering some of us are writers, we’d like to see beneath the European concept of the public commons, copyright laws, rehashing old stories, and the production of art in the world of others, in order to find what of ours has been lost.
     Somewhere underneath it all, we expect to find a little handful of dirt. Maybe someone will go down there and grab some, bring it up, and start spreading it around. And – just to be cheeky – that someone will be an animal.


Bibliography
Bird, Louis. “The Spirit Lives in the Mind:” Omushkego stories, lives and dreams.    
            McGill-Queen’s University Press. 2007

Boyd, Doug. Mad Bear: Spirit, Healing, and the Sacred in the Life of a Native American
Medicine Man.

Fenton, William N. False faces of the Iroquois. Norman
              University of Oklahoma Press. 1987.
            
Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”
http://harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387 Harper’s Magazine, 2007.

Mojica, Monique. “Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way.”
            Chocolate Woman Collective. Toronto, June 2011.




[1] Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” http://harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387 Harper’s Magazine, 2007.
[2] Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”
[3] Fenton, William N. False faces of the Iroquois. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. There are countless versions of this story that can be found on the Internet. Fenton’s is considered among the most accurate, in that the origin of his version is in fact, a Haudenasonee community. Also, Fenton provides the different versions from among those communities. In this, I am cautious enough to note that this is not my story. Also, I would never orally tell this story, (nor should anyone one whom isn’t allowed to - whether in a lodge or in a public forum). There are rules to certain stories that each community practices, and only members of the Haudenasonee people know the rules for this one. Ironically, Fenton is not Haudenasonee, though he technically holds the copyright for this story.
[4] Boyd, Doug. Mad Bear: Spirit, Healing, and the Sacred in the Life of a Native American Medicine Man. Touchstone, New York, 1994. http://feathersandbones.blogspot.com/2008/06/story-of-false-face.html
[5] Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”
[6] I must insist at this point that William Fenton’s methodological approach is not under scrutiny. It doesn’t appear as though he harmed the story or the community or it’s stories greatly. I can only assume that he has done so properly. Unfortunately, we cannot blindly assume that vampires don’t still lurk in the shadows.
[7] ibid
[8] Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.”
[9] I must also note that this attention to the language of the word, and its translation would not be possible without spending several years studying Anishinaapemowin through the University of Toronto’s Aboriginal Studies Department. I particularly owe the professors there (especially the Ojibwe teacher, A. McKay) a debt of gratitude for helping me through his concept over the years.
[10] Louis Bird. “The Spirit Lives in the Mind” 2007.
[11] Tyler Pennock. “Fear, Control, and the creation of Cannibal Hearts.” http://gentlespark.blogspot.com/2010/09/fear-control-and-creation-of-cannibal.html 2008.
[12] Mojica, Monique. Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way. Chocolate Woman Collective, June 2011. This is a one act, one scene play.
[13] Mojica, Monique. This is a translation from the original Bire Ibire, Aibilia Aibiliali ,Aibire Aibiride, Bippir Maigde.